In the past week, I've seen several posts about hand-quilting and I thought I would toss in some tidbits about my process since I very seldom machine quilt.
Thread: I choose my thread based on the look of the project. It's not uncommon for me to use several different types of thread like in my Polly Goes To Paris quilt where I used no. 8 perle cotton and waxed cotton. My preferred thread is no.8 perle cotton. Living in DFW Metroplex, I'm very lucky to have The French Knot which has a wide-range of s-twist cord (which is what perle cotton is if you are unfamiliar with thread terms); however, they have a great selection of colours in no. 5 so that is often what I go with.
Needles: When I quilt with perle cotton I use a no. 22 Chenille needle. The eye is big enough to easily thread even the thickest perle cotton. It takes some practice to get used to working with such a big needle but I've never been one to worry about the number of stitches per inch. I can tell you that with practice, you can get 12-16 stitches per inch even with this needle -- if small stitches are important to you.
Basting: I don't use a spray baste, just needle and thread. Starting in the middle I typically work in diagonals until all three pieces of the quilt are secured together. It's ends up being less than what my grandmothers' generation would teach you to do and more than Japanese artists.
Marking The Quilt for Quilting: Again this depends on the project. If I'm doing a lot of straight lines then I use masking tape; if I'm doing certain Welsh quilting designs then I use tailor's chalk or a no.2 pencil to mark the quilt; if I'm doing a fleur-de-lis or a wine glass pattern, then I just free hand the quilting.
And the most popular question, I'm consistently asked -- How do you manage to hand-quilt everything?
It's just what I do. Quilting on a machine -be it my nice little Bernina or my mum's long arm- are some of the most stressful hours of my life. I just don't enjoy the process at all. For several years (longer than I would like to admit) I struggled with quilting because I felt pressure to machine quilt. That it was the 'normal' thing to do in my generation. However, about two years ago, I gave up trying to machine quilt and started to do my own thing.
It turned out to be the epiphany I had been searching for for years when it came to quilting. The next thing I knew, I had been invited to join my mum's old-fashioned quilting bee at her local church whenever I'm in town. There is a joke that though they won't turn anyone away who is interested, even beginners; it is really done by invitation only.
And how do I get so much done? It's because I'm never with out it. If I'm watching television, I'm sewing or quilting; if I'm traveling, the same; if I'm at work, the same (my job often requires me to just be there in case of an emergency). Most of my finished quilts are throw-sized because they are easy to travel with; and my bed-sized quilts go on my large standing frame. Those take more time only because I can't take them with me. ;)
Though I've been exposed to hand-quilting my entire life (being a multi-generational quilter), I can safely say the best piece of advice I can give someone about it is: Jump off the cliff and try it. You won't know unless you try and the best quilters you see at it, have been doing it for years.